10 Things I Learned at The Bold Academy
by Smiley Poswolsky, Bold Academy Director
“Who you decide to be and whether you decide to stay true to yourself—is the only thing people can’t take from you—unless you let them.”
–Bold Academy San Francisco, February, 2013
Between February 8-18, 2013, 16 emerging leaders from three countries joined an inspiring team of entrepreneurs, coaches, mentors, do-gooders, and go-getters, and we all lived together in a house on Alamo Square Park for ten days, forming The Bold Academy San Francisco. Together, we built a community of intention, engagement, passion, and love; with the mission of becoming our best selves, living the lives we were meant to live, and creating positive social change.
This post compiles a tiny portion of the wisdom I gained from the Bold community this February. In sharing this, my ask is that you share it as well, and encourage others to do the same, ensuring more and more people unplug from The Matrix, as we support each other in living the lives we were meant to live.
1. Vulnerability is Power.
At Bold Academy, every participant, mentor, and speaker has the opportunity to tell their story. You’d think that bringing together a group of talented Bolders and world-class mentors—some of whom have started multi-million dollar companies—that most people would tell stories of achievement, excellence, and success. This was not the case. At Bold, we listened to story after story of failure, of fear, of humility, of embarrassment, of a project gone wrong, of an idea not turning out as planned or desired. Yet, time after time, these so-called “failures” were in fact life-defining lessons, teachings that led to a transformative experience, a new life purpose, and hard-earned success. It’s only when we expose our darkest fears and our greatest mistakes that true growth occurs.
Impactful entrepreneurs, leaders, organizers, and artists, are similar in that they are at one with their own vulnerability; their dark side has been exposed, their dark side forms the core of their work or business, their dark side is what makes them powerful. That which makes them weak, that which keeps them up at night, that which scares them, also energizes them, and fuels their passion and their desire to create. Moreover, it’s what makes them relatable, and makes their story so powerful. Nobody wants to work with someone who knows everything or doesn’t need help. Why? Because all of us, the CEO and the intern, have something to learn, and all of us need help. All of us.
Be true to your own story, who you are, and what you need, and your story will resonate with others. The world will come to your aid.
2. The journey is the journey. Embrace it.
A lot of inspirational books or blogs tell you to “find your passion.” It’s like, “No shit, if I knew what my passion was, I wouldn’t be reading your blog.” Instead, at Bold Academy, we focus on creating a community of intention and collaboration, a supportive environment where multiple passions and interests can be explored and shared. Rather than stressing about finding the elusive “passion,” embrace an attitude of experimentation, of being open to trying, open to failure, open to mistakes. Focus on living in the present and embrace the journey to explore many passions (or interests, hobbies, instincts, and fears) and be ok with changing course, finding a new passion, or coming back to a passion you haven’t thought about for ten years.
The journey is the journey. There is no mountain top or finish line or final award (when you get that award, you’ll still have to go out and do something the next day), there is just this moment, so embrace it, live your life today, right now. As Bold’s yoga teacher, Julia Winston, reminded us one morning, “We run forward, we push, we have goals, we dream, to get to the present.”
3. Fall in love with your life.
“How you spend your days is how you spend your life.” -Annie Dillard
At Bold we encourage participants to find the daily rituals and habits that lead to fulfillment and success. If yoga makes you feel strong, centered, and confident, and you love doing yoga, and yet your current job only allows you to do yoga once a week, then you don’t need to quit your job, but you definitely need to make more time for yoga. If writing makes you happy, then write daily. If you love teaching other people and working with kids, and your current job consists of listening to music in headphones and filling in an Excel sheet, you need to make a change.
Take time to discover the things you personally love, the little things that make you smile, and the rituals that make you better, and incorporate them into your daily life.
4. Lean Into Fear.
“If I’m not afraid to do something, it’s probably not worth my time.” –Ted Gonder
Ted Gonder, founder and CEO of Moneythink, a nonprofit that teaches financial life-skills and entrepreneurial thinking to high school students, which is an Echoing Green Fellowship semi-finalist, gave an inspiring talk at Bold on smashing fear. Ted’s personal credo is one all of us can aspire to: fear is a tool, fear is fuel, fear is to be partnered with, we can listen to our fears to point us in the direction we need to walk.
Let me practice what I preach and get vulnerable for a moment. There is not a single day that goes by that I am not scared shitless of the life I’ve embarked on; I do not know where I’ll be in five years career-wise, whether I’ll be making income from writing and inspiring others, or how I’m going to raise a family one day. However, I do know that I must do those things, I will find a way, at all costs, precisely because it scares me shitless. As my friend Ted says, “Flinching is not a luxury that excellence can afford.”
5. Take your ideas seriously. Share them.
“A lot of people never use their initiative because no one told them to.”–Banksy
One of our Bold Mentors, George Zisiadis, led a life-changing session on taking your idea seriously, in which he implored us to use our initiative and tell our friends to use theirs. If you have an idea, however big or small or crazy or epic or ridiculous, write it down, pursue it, and most importantly, share your idea with others.
Why? Well, take the story of one Bold mentor, social entrepreneur and engineer, Debbie Sterling. Around three years ago, while eating brunch, she told some friends in San Francisco about an idea she had to make a toy company to get young girls interested in engineering, motivated by the fact that nearly every engineering toy at the toy store catered to the way boys learn. Her friends loved the idea, and told her she had to pursue it.
Eventually, she left her job and she started working full-time on building a business and prototyping the toy. She told more people about her idea at the StartingBloc Institute for Social Innovation, and the enthusiasm in the room was palpable, so much so that other StartingBloc Fellows started working for her. Within a year, GoldieBlox raised over $285,000 on Kickstarter and was a big hit at this year’s Toy Fair in New York City. In short, Debbie was able to launch a business that is starting to inspire young girls all over the world, all because she got vulnerable, shared her idea, it resonated with others, and people came flocking to support her and her vision.
6. You can’t do this shit alone. (Seriously, you can’t do this shit alone.)
As Debbie’s story illustrates, sharing your idea and asking for help can change everything. At Bold Academy, we practice sharing our needs and gives. One ask, one email, two minutes spent walking up to a random stranger and asking for help, can change everything. You have to make the ask. We can’t help you if we don’t know what you need. Don’t be shy, this is your life. Make your ask, and make it often.
Conversely; give, give, give. Tell your friends and community what you’re unique value-add is, what skills you have, who you are connected to, and how you can help them achieve their goals. Giving will empower others, who in return, will help you soar to new heights.
7. Community is everything. Find an intentional one.
Anyone that’s built a thriving business or led a successful project knows this already; you need to surround yourself with people that make you fulfilled, that make you smarter, that support you when you succeed and love you when you fail, that constantly push you to be the best you can be. This is as tough for me to write as it is for you to read, but if the people you are currently living with, hanging out with, or working with, are not making you better, then as soon as possible, you need to change living situations or find new friends and co-workers. It’s sad, but I’m sorry, it’s true.
Intentional communities like Bold Academy and StartingBloc provide a community of entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, innovators, artists, teachers, mentors, and friends, united in the pursuit of self-potential and social impact. Your community has your back, your community makes sure you’re following your dreams, and holds you accountable to your goals. Your community looks at your goals and says, “I think you can do better.” Your community, your tribe, talks about ideas and dreams. Other people talk about bullshit. People that make you have a good time, believe in you, give you soul talk, and inspire you to reach new heights; those are very special friends, hold onto them at all costs.
8. Fuck mediocrity.
Life was not meant to be driven at cruise control, placing your dreams on hold until sometime in between age 60 and 75 when your back aches like hell, you can’t even remember what you did every day Monday through Friday for 40 years, and you have a nice 401k and a bag of golf clubs. I’m not hating on having an office job—don’t get me wrong, I love office snacks, office crushes, and The Office—but I am hating on working a job you hate for a company or organization you don’t believe in. I’m hating on living a mediocre life.
Sometimes, yes, we need to work jobs we don’t love to support ourselves and our families, and much of the world’s population simply does not have a choice to pick what they do for a living. Yet, I know plenty of people who have savings, who actually do have the special privilege to take a pay cut to work on something they believe in, but they don’t, because they are scared, scared of failure, scared of giving up their nice $2000/month apartment, scared of giving up fancy Sunday brunches, scared of admitting they are 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 years-old and still finding out who they are. My friends: you are not alone. All of us are still figuring it out. That’s why we’re alive. The journey is the journey.
Your job and your lifestyle should reflect your personal interests, passions, and values. If you don’t know what you want to do, that’s totally fine, explore internships and apprenticeships and activities and opportunities in areas that do interest you. Above all, don’t settle for mediocrity in anything you do. If you need help matching your skills with a meaningful job that has a social impact, check out the resources provided by ReWork, or email me and I’ll do my best to help.
9. Once you make an impact, you can’t go back.
I cannot tell you the joy I experienced this past week knowing that the work we put into Bold Academy directly impacted the way participants (and myself, and other mentors and staff) see their lives and what they are capable of achieving in this world. I cannot explain that sensation in words, that feeling of gratitude that the solar system has conspired for you to be in that exact moment doing that exact thing at that exact time, that you were actually born to do something in this ridiculous thing we call life, but that’s what it felt like.
And now that I’ve felt that, and having known 1000% what it feels like day after day to NOT be making a direct impact in anyone’s life, I know that I cannot go back to a life without meaning. I refuse to, I am physically unable to. I don’t care if it means I make tens of thousands of dollars less than my friends, live with roommates till I’m 37, never own a car, and have sub-par health insurance until the United States becomes civilized, fuck it, I’d rather make a difference in someone else’s life than waste my time doing something I’m not passionate about.
10. Life is precious.
“Do not waste time.” –Amit Gupta
You have a finite amount of time on this planet. Make it worthwhile. Do want you want to do, maximize your personal potential. If you need to save up money before you do what you want to do, awesome, save up some money—use that time to experiment and plan your next move—and then take the leap. But set a date and jump, the world is waiting.
Please share this post with your friends!
The Bold Academy is a life accelerator program designed to maximize your performance and empower you to live the life you were meant to live. The next Bold Academy will take place later this year in San Francisco. For more information, check out boldacademy.com.